Racing Can Learn a Thing or Two from Rick Santorum

Last evening, little known Republican candidate Rick Santorum - languishing at 4 or 5% in the polls - made a stunning run, almost topping flush-with-cash Mitt Romney in the Iowa caucuses.

His 25% share of the vote gives us (as marketers) a real lesson; one that I think racing should pay heed to.

He did what other businesses have done to grow this century in our compartmentalized, target marketing world - he targeted a niche, and expanded.  By staking out ground with evangelicals, speaking their language, and adding a new narrative of addressing the need to expand the manufacturing job base (something neither party or any candidate has spoken about), he built a social conservative coalition. He didn't need or try to be everything to everyone, he just tried to be something to someone.

That coalition drove his vote, and he is now squarely on the national stage.

The other party tries to do this at times with their fringe candidates - sometimes you wonder if some democratic hopefuls sleep with a Marx-Engels dictionary to win primaries in left wing activist places like D.C. - but no one has been near as effective as Santorum. He proves it can be done.

Santorum didn't need a mass market to grow his brand; he just needed a slice of it.

Clearly we often hear racing needs that mass market. We need TV. We need to be on cereal boxes to compete with the "Dodgers and the Lakers". We need to be on ESPN, on billboards on the expressway.

I say phooey.

It is estimated (in Buzzmarketing by Mark Hughes) that it can take six years and $60 million to mass market brand or re-brand, with no guarantee of it being successful. We are not the Dodgers and the Lakers, nor are we Proctor and Gamble.

Racing needs to stop worrying about competing with industries, games, or products we have no shot to beat. We need to target a niche and expand.

As we wrote here in one of the most popular blog pieces (in terms of web-hits) we've written:
  • I think the time has come for a repositioning of racing. Marketing to the mass-market is a concept that should be shelved. I believe the NTRA and others should work on an industry wide marketing program that filters from the top, all the way down to each track and organization. It will have one simple message: Horse racing is a game ....... and you will have the time of your life playing it.
Racing needs to think less like Mitt Romney, and more like Rick Santorum.

In 2012, it works.


The Meadowlands opens Friday with almost 200 entries. Is this sustainable? One can hope so. By eliminating some questionable trainers, and inviting everyone to come race and have a shot, it has to help handles. If you love harness racing, start handicapping and bet this meet.

I got a picture sent to me from Cape Breton Island, where a couple of the yearlings are being trained down. It's a different world out this way, where harness racing (and life) is slow. And it's quite beautiful.

From the Eclipse ballots I see, it seems the logical choice will win HOY in the US - Havre de Grace. Sometimes we really over-think things, or try and look contrarian, but not this time.

Claire Novak goes A to Z in racing in 2011.

Dk in Trot, on simo signals, marketing and more.

Rapid Redux goes for another win today.

Yonkers scraps 1 1/16th mile racing and goes back to a mile.

Just a note via email - the new wagering menu at the M includes some races with $1 minimum superfectas (something that larger bankrolled players love). I don't know if there is a carryover provision or not, but I would hope so, since early on some may carry and it could build some super good excitement race to race.

Enjoy your day everyone!


kyle said...

Agree with you completely about the niche thing. The analogy I've settled on is that racing will never be American Idol but it could be Seinfeld. Seinfeld had a tiny audience the first couple seasons. But the producers had faith in the concept and the network stuck with them. And look what happened - the audience was ultimately a lot greater than anyone could have predicted. They didn't pander. They didn't make the show more "accessable."
Racing is forever running from and obscuring it's true nature and essential appeal. The fact is, many of those in positions of power in the industry are ashamed of the product. That, and horsemen - owners and trainers - don't want to acknowledge the fundamental and supreme postion of the bettor for their own foolish aggrandisement. Racing on television is a complete disaster. I would argue the more coverage the worse for the game. What the networks peddle is not the game I, or anybody who drives revenue by the money they put through the windows, loves. In fact, most of it is insulting to bettors. So what televison coverage does is allienates the natural customer and cons the general public, who if they do explore the game further finds they've been sold a bill of goods.

jamesp said...

All points are well-taken, and well-said, but I would have used another comparison instead of Santorum. As noted above, something with happier connotations like Seinfeld would have been better. I was thinking of jazz or bluegrass, which like racing have been around for a long time, have managed to maintain a solid audience of devoted fans, and are open to any newcomers taking an interest. Both look for ways to attract and hold a younger audience. And - to continue your marketing comparison - a little exposure and education at a young age will go a long way toward creating lifelong fans.

No matter what your politics, Santorum is way too much of a devisive figure parading around on a high horse. No pun intended. For every vote he is able to attract, there are several voters quickly put off, at least around this NY metro area.

If racing were to follow such a model - attracting new fans as it angered others at the same time - it's future would be pretty bleak.


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